2.18.2007

Another On-Campus Electrocution

Another person has been tasered electrocuted on a college campus, this time at San Diego State University. (Article here. ) The offense? Failing to respond accordingly to this anti-skateboarding signage:



I've blogged at length before about the language of electrocution and how I think construing such violence as "tasering" mildly sanitizes it by associating it with high-tech portable weaponry/gadgetry. Oddly enough, readers of the blog currently masquerading as Metaspencer Got Blog may recall that I've also blogged at length about anti-skateboarding signage. (In fact, it's weird, but about fifty hits a day come in via the images on that post. Go fig.)

I would never have guessed that Metaspencer Got Blog (MGB) would someday be titled as such and become a convergence point for news about electrocuted students and anti-skateboarding signage, but that day has arrived.

The screams in the video are painfully reminiscent of what the voltage did back at UCLA.

7 comments:

  1. Anonymous12:21 PM

    Technically, electrocution means that someone died from the charge (> electricity + execution). In this case, the victim was merely assaulted by Taser.

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  2. Hmmm, okay, that's weird: so if I stick my finger in the wall socket and survive I was only ... shocked?

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  3. As an electrician in North Carolina once told me about being careful with a hot wire: "It'll bite 'cha!"

    Seriously, though, anonymous, given the obvious brutality revealed by the video, worrying about semantics here seems out of place.

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  4. Anonymous12:37 AM

    Actually the semantics here matters, though. Here's why: Every dictionary defines electrocution *only* as killing by electric shock (Meriam Webster, American Heritage, Random House, OED, and Encarta, at least), so to call Tasering 'electrocution' is kind of hyperbolic, as it is to say you were electrocuted by sticking your finger in a socket (and surviving). I'm sorry that the dictionary is so inconvenient, but words do have meaning, after all.

    Considering how brutal Taser shocks are, my point in reminding folks of the semantics here is merely that hyperbole I think probably undermines the banning of Taser assaults by police (on students or otherwise). It reminds me of how terms like 'genocide' or 'fascist' get thrown around too easily, and then policy makers end up shrugging at people who use rhetoric like that, rolling their eyes because the words don't match the situation at hand.

    If anti-Taser people, including myself, want policy makers to listen to us, accurate words need to be used because policy makers will end up shrugging and rolling their eyes.

    Battery and/or assault are actually the right legal concepts here, anyway, which gives policy makers a framework in which to think about illegal and abusive Tasering and in which to ban the practice or make it punishable. (Battery would be actually Tasering someone; assault would be to instill fear in someone of imminent Tasering.)

    Both are usually felonies, so it might catch policy makers' and police officers' attention more to talk about 'felony battery by Taser'. Certainly, a police officer will take notice if people are calling for police officers to be punished for 'felony battery by Taser' than for 'electrocution'. :-)

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  5. A point of slippage in this discussion is around the deadliness of taser weaponry. Articles such as this one report that, as of a year ago, tasers were used to kill 167 people. So tasers electrocute their victims, when electrocution is used to signify "kill with electricity," in many instances.

    Now, we also know that the electric chair has not always killed those it zaps: Willie Francis, for instance, in 1946, survived the chair and lived (for another year) to tell about it. We would still say, I think, that he was electrocuted (and survived).

    I like the suggested use of assault and/or battery to describe taser-assaults, as I think that language captures the over-the-top response and illegality in both the UCLA and San Diego State incidents of police violence. At the same time, I think strong, descriptive language (electrocution, e.g.) is both justified, given the deadliness of this weapon, and vividly descriptive in a way that wields potential leverage against the sanitizing of publicly funded and supported police violence.

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  6. Anonymous--
    Your more developed response is helpful; thanks. I certainly see why you would have chosen to focus on the def. of electrocution.

    Still, assuming that to call "tasering" electrocution is hyperbolic (which Spencer convincingly argues may not, or may not always, be the case), I would suggest that hyperbole might be precisely the way to get lawmakers and other officials to listen.

    When I was still at the U of I and a part of the Graduate Employee Organization (a unionization effort), I didn't want to look childish by huffing and ranting and comparing ourselves to the meat packers in The Jungle. But I went along, and in the end, it was the hyperbolic (and the just plain loud and obstructionist) approach that won out. If we had gone my way, relying entirely on carefully-reasoned, non-hyperbolic argument targeted as effectively as possible at key stakeholders in the "debate," U of I grads would still have no union. Of that I'm convinced.

    Sometimes you have to risk melodrama to be heard.

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  7. This discussion intrigued me and made me wonder about failed electrocution as a category, and a google search (http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%22failed+electrocution%22&btnG=Search) shows that such a category is, ahem alive in the work of artists and writers.

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